Thinking of Water as a Material Witness: An Attempt to Fill the Voids in the Archive of the Moscow Canal (1932–37)

Nastia Volynova

  • A blue-tinted map demonstrates the flow of the Moscow Canal running from the Ivankovo Reservoir to Moscow.
  • A blue-tinted photograph of the renovated embankment near Borodinsky Bridge in Moscow with people and cars passing by on the right bank and buildings located on the left bank.

This essay revisits the Moscow Canal and explores its waters as the matter that bears witness to the violence experienced by human and nonhuman actors during the waterway’s construction between 1932 and 1937. By attending to the canal’s flow, it argues that water can operate as an alternative archive, expands the limits of what is currently considered unarchivable, and contributes several artifacts to more conventional forms of documentation. Using the operative concept of material witness developed by the artist-researcher Susan Schuppli, the essay investigates the artificial flow and analyzes patterns of its organization and operation as processes that register, disclose, and preserve the residues of violence that remain present underwater yet missing from the Moscow Canal narrative, inviting renarration of the histories produced by the reductive archival structures.

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NASTIA VOLYNOVA is an interdisciplinary researcher and writer, with a background in art history. Nastia explores narratives, water and (post)Soviet spaces. She holds a Postgraduate diploma in Curating and an MA in Contemporary Art Theory from Goldsmiths, University of London. Nastia is a member of the residues of wetness research collective which operates as a digital archive of watery imaginaries and their epistemologies. Currently based in Moscow, she is a resident at Garage Studios.

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